Friday, January 31, 2014

BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT: Fantasy Novel Extravaganza!

Starting February 1 through 8, Fantastical Reads is hosting their first Facebook event. Games will give book lovers chances to win an array of prizes. 

Join the fun all week on Fantastical Read's Facebook Event page.  

And visit their blog for a chance to win the paperback of Tolomay’s World and the Pool of Light by M.E. Lorde and The Hunt for Xanadu by Elyse Salpeter through a Goodreads Giveaway

Fantastical Reads— only the best reads and reviews!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cover reveal: Revenge — Tube Riders, Book 3

revenge cover

Now this is a striking cover!

Book 3 in Chris Ward's Tube Riders trilogy launches this month, only a couple of months after Ward released the second volume, Exile.

The Tube Riders trilogy is an original idea, set in a decidedly dystopian futuristic, dictatorial society. In Mega Britain's inner cities, gangs of youths seek excitement by riding on the outsides of underground trains. After being pursued by government Huntsmen, they spark a revolution. Revenge is set three years after the action in Exile. 
The Governor of Mega Britain is preparing for war with Europe. In Mega Britain's inner cities, pockets of rebels fight and die in the name of Marta Banks, brave leader of the surviving Tube Riders. 
The Tube Riders themselves, though, have disappeared. With their trail gone cold, the Governor and his deadly Huntsmen have no way to find them. 
That is, until the day the Governor recovers a long lost treasure from his past, an ancient artifact that could crush the rebellion for good.
Marta Banks is about to lose everything.

Look for Revenge this month, and in the meantime, check out Chris Ward's blog, his Amazon author page, and his earlier books, Tube Riders, Tube Riders: Exile, Head of Words, and The Man Who Built the World.

And re-read the review I gave of what he describes as his "best work," Head of Words, here in Written Words.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tilting against the biggest books of all time: the Bible and Quran

I'm taking a huge chance here.

 Last week, the news media were full of the story about York University in Toronto accommodating a male student’s request not to be put in a study group with women, on religious grounds.

The identity and specific religion of the student are protected under Canada’s privacy laws. Whatever religion it is, this case points to a long-standing problem.

I fully support freedom of religion, and will defend everyone’s right to believe and practice whatever they like, as long as it is not hurting anyone else nor infringing on any else’s rights. But it’s time we all stopped using religion or philosophy to excuse inexcusable behaviour and to justify unjustifiable ideas.

That’s right. I’m telling the world that I do not believe that you can use the Bible, the Quran, Mao’s little red book, the Communist Manifesto or any other book to defend your ideas. I just don’t accept the argument “because God says so.”

You can’t prove that, and the fact that you have a book that’s called “God’s words” does not constitute proof. I can write a book called “God’s Words, too.”

The devil is in the details

In September, 2013, sociology professor J. Paul Grayson assigned a mandatory group assignment that required students to work together in person. One student, who was taking the course online, asked Dr. Grayson to exempt him because his religious beliefs forbade him from meeting in public with a group of women.

Dr. Grayson refused the request, and after discussion, the student agreed to participate in the assignment and completed it. However, the university administration ordered Dr. Grayson to accommodate the request.

To his credit, Dr. Grayson refused the administration’s order to accommodate this religious request. “What if I said my religion frowns upon my interacting with blacks?” he wrote. This accommodate would set a precedent, he said, and make him an “accessory to sexism.”

The public reaction was telling and uplifting. I could not find a single person or opinion in the media that supported the religious accommodation. And rightfully so.

(The Dean of Arts at York University defended his action partly because the student asked to be able to complete the assignment in another way, and another online student who was situated outside the country was allowed another way to do the work.)

The media reaction

Every political leader in the country decried the university’s accommodation order. Every opinion speaker and writer I heard or read likewise sided with the professor. Every online comment also supported the professor, and pointed out that this type of religious accommodation damages women’s sexual equality rights, hard-won over the last century.

This is an example where the right of freedom to practice your religion conflicts with gender equality rights. Many Canadian schools provide prayer rooms, segregated by gender, as part of their “religious accommodation.” Canadian institutions — funded by Canadian taxpayers — accommodate religious practices that defy the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — part of the law that supposedly governs those institutions.

Religious versus human rights
I repeat, I support your right to believe and practice any religion you like. But I do not support anyone’s attempt to infringe on anyone else’s human rights. And equality of women and men is one of the most important.

I thought it was telling that CBC radio’s program, The Current, introduced this story with a clip of televangelist Pat Robertson saying that according to the Bible, men and women are not equal.

According to this logic, religion justifies unequal treatment and unequal rights between the sexes. It says so in the Bible.

I’m not trying to criticize any particular religion here, nor am I trying to open a general debate about crime and punishment. All I want to do is to point out the hypocrisy of the argument that goes: “I must do this/I cannot do that because the Bible/Quran/whatever other text I hold out as justification for every ridiculous idea that comes out of my mouth, says so.”
Crazy idea icon by mehagopijiji.
Licenced under Creative Commons.

Otherwise rational people are afraid to criticize religious beliefs and practices because they fear being branded as intolerant, racist, or xenophobic. Well, I’m none of those things, but I will say this: I don’t accept the “It’s God’s will” argument, because the people who use it don’t accept it, either.

Nobody actually follows the entire Bible, even though they say they do. Not even Pat Robertson. How many people sacrifice cattle to God? Does Pat Robertson? Yet Leviticus, the Biblical book that instructs believers in how to live every minute of their lives, tells readers to sacrifice bulls just about every day.

Have you ever seen a televangelist making that kind of sacrifice, or indeed, any kind of sacrifice of his own property?

Do religious leaders in Canada promote the death penalty for adultery? How many religious people think that’s okay? Should Canada accommodate religious sects that want to put adulterers to death?

From Leviticus, Chapter 20. Source:
The Bible also tells believers to put homosexuals to death. I’m pretty sure that Canadian law does not accommodate this practice.

The Quran tells a husband to beat his wife — mildly, yes, but definitely to use force — if she defies his authority. Would Canadian law accommodate this? Would US law? I hope not.

No one follows any scriptures absolutely. No one in Canada can put adulterers or homosexuals to death. If they do, the law will punish them.

The point is that even the most religious choose among obligations to follow, adhering to some and ignoring others. It’s a human decision.

Not a divine one.

Basing all your life actions on an ancient book is an unsupportable idea. Every religious person chooses the scriptures he or she will follow, because no one follows all of them. No one can.

I won’t argue whether the Bible and Quran were divinely inspired, because I cannot change anyone’s belief on that point in a blog. But how about if I add this: God told me to write this post.

Prove to me that He (or She, or Whatever) did not.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The whole story and nothing but the story

Photo: Satiray in Flickr. Creative Commons License
While I post book reviews regularly on this blog, I decided years ago not to publish a negative review of a book by an independent author. I also promised never to publish a positive review unless I really meant it. My reviews are candid, and while I hope to promote independent authors, I won’t lie about a book’s quality. I just will not review a book I don’t think is good. I don’t see the point in tearing down a book by an author who is probably struggling as hard as I am to sell books. I would rather spend my time promoting deserving authors.

While I have read many excellent author-published books, the one I’m currently reading, which I will call “the book” for the rest of this post, disappoints me. It was written by a best-selling, independent author who has done a lot to promote the credibility self-published authors.

I expected an engaging story, but instead, I found a frustrating one. Getting through this story is like wading knee-deep through adjectival phrases, similes and adverbs.

Take this example (with key words changed to disguise the identity):
Bernard von Bauben saw her before he was halfway across the lobby. Mary Lynn was sitting in an overstuffed lavender chair beside the Baby Grand Piano, dressed in mauve and lace, smiling at him. Von Bauben walked immediately to her, and she stood and kissed his cheek. Her lips were warm, and von Bauben saw a fire burning deep within the coloration of her eyes.

Or this one:
The Elite Apartments were cloaked in peace and solitude as they were advertised to be. From the outside, only a dozen or so lights were visible in the windows, and the faint sound of a radio playing Scott Joplin’s ragtime disrupted the stilted silence of a day fading into night. 
As he climbed out of the car, Brent Haymire thought he glimpsed a nervous rustle of curtains on the third floor, and he wondered if someone was up there watching him. In his line of work, there were eyes everywhere. General Tom Regan often accused him of being stricken with an acute case of paranoia. Maybe he was imagining things. Maybe not. The mind did have a habit of playing tricks sometimes. But the subconscious was also the best warning system that man possessed, and Haymire knew that, thus far, his paranoia, real or imagined, had managed to keep him clear of those sordid things, legal and ominous, that go bump in the night.
 Good grief! Anyone with the slimmest grasp of English could cut those passages in half without losing any information.

Combine that with the number of times the author dedicates two paragraphs to describing a scene or a feeling, then does it again three pages later, and you can imagine my reaction:

“Get on with the story!”

Coincidentally, I watched Cloud Atlas on DVD last night. (Okay, so I still use obsolete technology. I also listen to a transistor radio when I work out.) That movie disappointed me, too, for a similar reason: the writers were more focused on their own writing cleverness than on telling the story.

Cloud Atlas banner by CochiseMFC
Cloud Atlas was based on a novel with a great reputation (I haven’t read it, and I don’t think I will, now) and had a strong cast, but failed to tell the story. The novel features six “nested” stories that begin in the south Pacific in 1850, move through the 20th century to a dystopian and post-apocalyptic future, then goes back to the beginning. Each story is interrupted at a crucial point by the next story, which picks up a character or an object from the previous one. It was a clever idea that earned the author a lot of praise for his writing skills.

I think that the movie’s writers tried to be as clever, and ended up creating something so complex as to be baffling. Instead of nesting six different stories, the movie jumps around from story to story quickly, with no apparent reason and no apparent pattern, other than beginning and ending with the post-apocalyptic story of Zachry — in effect, turning the novel’s structure inside-out.

The cast, which included Tom Hanks, David Broadbent, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon, had roles in most, if not all of the stories. This was more of a distraction than an addition, especially with actors changing gender or race — Halle Berry as a Jewish refugee in 1935, or Doona Bae as a Korean clone in 2144 as well  the daughter of an American slaver in 1850. I found myself saying “Oh, that’s Tom Hanks with a skin wig and a beard and heavy makeup!” or “Hey, that’s no lady! That’s Hugo Weaving in drag and a blond wig!” Worst, I had to look up the cast on my iPad. “Is that Roger Daltrey? No, it’s Hugh Grant with a curly wig and old-guy makeup!”

Nearly three hours later, I could not see the movie’s point. I think the directors and writers tried to make a statement with the actors playing different roles in different stories, but what that statement was, I cannot tell.

The most important part of any story: the audience
The filmmakers behind Cloud Atlas and the author of the book that disappoints me spent far too much time admiring their own abilities, and not enough asking whether they’ve connected with their audience.
Image courtesy Creative Commons

What do you think? Did you watch Cloud Atlas? Did you read the novel? Have you ever read a book that seemed to have more to do with showing off the writer’s abilities than telling a story to a reader? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Book launch: The Darkness Comes by Bruce Blake

Am I ready to kill?

A cloud of swirling mist sighed out between Kuneprius’ lips, rising into the night to smear the glow of the winter moon. He watched it dissipate, then exhaled another long plume, blowing it out the way he’d seen the Brothers do when they smoked their pipes filled with sweetweed. Instead of swirling the wreaths he’d watched them create, his breath came out a ragged column. 


Kuneprius cocked his head toward the urgent sound, an apology teetering on the tip of his tongue. At the last instant, he remembered himself and said nothing, pressing himself flatter against the side of the hill. Fildrian lay less than ten man-lengths away, but the Brother’s black hood and robe hid him in the darkness; despite his proximity, empty loneliness ached in Kuneprius’ chest. 

The lad grasped the short sword’s hilt tighter, testing its uncomfortable weight. Though he’d seen the seasons turn but twelve times, he’d trained with this very sword for six of them. The temple blacksmith formed it with him in mind, the grip molded to the shape of his fingers. Its length and weight had proved too much for him when he first held it, but he’d grown into it, its size ideal for a boy of his age. He shifted minutely, searching for comfort and understanding that the prospect of swinging the weapon to wound rather than in practice caused his unease, not the sword itself. 

Will I be able to wield it when the time comes? Can I kill if I need to? 

He’d never been sent on a hunt, so the sword’s edge hadn’t tasted blood other than his own when he got clumsy or distracted while sharpening the blade. He shifted his grip on the leather-wrapped hilt, hand slipping with the slickness of the sweat on his palm. For so many seasons, he’d trained for this moment; he knew he’d kill if the need arose. 

I hope it doesn’t. 

The rattle-clunk of wooden wheels on dirt track rolled along the shallow valley and up the hill to Kuneprius’ ears. Soon, he’d need wonder no more. 

The apprentice angled his head to peer down the weed-clogged road, squinting as he attempted to pick out the wagons in the darkness. The lanterns hanging at the front of each, bobbing and swinging with the horses’ gaits, made it easy. He counted them silently. 

One, two, three…four? 

His heart lurched. Brother Fildrian had said to expect three—two carts and a covered wagon. Kuneprius’ gaze flickered to the spot where he expected to find the expedition leader’s dark shape, but he saw nothing. He glanced back to the track, the horse-drawn vehicles drawing closer and, in the glow of their lanterns, he counted two covered wagons. 

Which one?

The second volume in Bruce Blake's Small Gods series is now out. The Darkness Comes picks up where When Shadows Fall leaves off. 

What's it about?

When shadows fall, the darkness comes...

 A disgraced Goddess Mother wanders blind and alone, praying for her agony to end. When a helpful apostle finds her, could it truly by salvation, or does worse torment lie ahead? A sister struggles to understand a prophecy that may not be meant for her while her brother fights for his life. If the firstborn child of the rightful king dies, will it spell the end for everyone? Darkness and shadow creep across the land in the form of a fierce clay golem animated by its sculptor's blood. It seeks a mythical creature who's sacrifice portends the return of ancient evil banished from the world long ago. With its return will come the fall of man. As the game unfolds, the Small Gods watch from the sky, waiting for their time to come and their chance to rise again. They wait for the fall of shadows, the coming of the darkness. They wait for night to descend.
Bruce Blake continues his incredible productivity, releasing the second volume in this brilliantly executed only a couple of months after the first volume, and he promises the third book soon. I don't doubt it for a second.

Now that you've read the sample, get the book from your choice of vendors.

The Darkness Comes: 

But before you read the second book in the Small Gods series, you have to read the first. When Shadows Fall is on sale for 99 cents for the rest of the week. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year’s Day, 2014

The new year came to Ottawa with a high, clear sky, a pale winter sun refracting off smooth expanses of pristine white snow. With the temperature around minus 30 C in the morning, the packed snow on the pavements squeaked. 

By afternoon, the temperature has warmed to the minus 20 C range. The radio meteorologists say the wind chill is even colder, but I haven’t noticed much wind. To me, this is ideal, the perfect temperature for enjoying the world. You have to be dressed for it, of course, but I love the look of dark green spruce trees against a pale blue sky and pure white snow, the feeling of cold air on my face and in my nose while my body is warm inside my clothes.

A perfect Canadian New Year’s Day! Welcome, 2014!